After leaving Easter Island, we continued west. 3 days and 1,289 miles later, we arrived at the tiny volcanic island of Pitcairn (1 mile long x 2 miles wide). This island was inhabited by Polynesians until the 1500’s, when it was abandoned for unknown reasons. It was not settled again until 1790 by a strange mix of evildoers and kidnap victims….
Do you know the scandalous story of The Mutiny on the Bounty? On April 28,1789, a group of sailors led by Assistant Lieutenant Fletcher Christian seized control of the HMS Bounty (a British ship) from their Captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. Christian set Bligh and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship’s 23 foot open launch, hundreds of miles from land, with no nautical charts. The boat was severely overloaded, and they were given enough food and water for only 5 days. He doubted the group would survive. He was wrong. With strict quarter rationing, and a few stops on islands to gather provisions, Bligh and his men managed to complete an unprecedented 47 day, 4,000 mile voyage and land on Coupang, an island in the Dutch East Indies. Only one man died in route. He was stoned to death by hostile islanders on Tufoa as the launch tried to escape from land after gathering provisions.
The men were in pitiful shape by the time they reached Coupang and many died before making it back to England. Bligh did make it home to gave a full accounting of the scandalous event. Mutiny, a reprehensible act, was punished by death for all involved. In November 1790, the Admiralty dispatched Captain Edwards in command of the HMS Pandora to locate and capture the mutineers and return them to England to stand trial.
Meanwhile… after setting Bligh adrift, the Bounty headed back to Tahiti while Christian decided on a plan. When he was ready to leave, 14 of his fellow mutineers refused to go. They preferred to hang out and enjoy a hedonistic life with the sexually uninhibited Tahitian women. Clearly, their brains were otherwise occupied, and they didn’t realize their freedom was fleeting. The HMS Pandora arrived 4 months later and easily captured all the mutineers. Christian was not among them, which infuriated Captain Edwards. He secured the men in a metal cage below decks, referred to as “Pandora’s Box”. 4 of the 14 mutineers died in the box when the ship ran aground and sunk on the Great Barrier Reef, before the box was unlocked. The other 10 men were eventually brought back to England where 3 were pardoned, 4 were acquitted (bribes?), and 3 were hung.
Right before Christian left Tahiti with 8 fellow mutineers, he invited several islanders onboard the Bounty for a party. After everyone was stinking drunk, he pulled the anchor and kidnapped the locals. When they sobered up, and figured out what happened, they were pretty peeved. Especially since Christian had no intention of taking them home. He had formed the idea of settling on Pitcairn Island, far to the east of Tahiti. Pitcairn had been reported in 1767, but its exact location was never verified. After months of searching, Christian rediscovered the island, 216 miles east of its recorded position. This charting error closed the deal. It would be extremely difficult for any pursuers to find them.
On arrival, the Bounty was stripped of everything useful then set ablaze close to shore and destroyed. This was a necessary precaution against discovery and made escaping impossible. The anchor was pulled up in the 1950’s, and is on display in the town hall on Pitcairn. Nothing else, other then ballast stones remain underwater. There is no wreck to dive on, for those of you who are planning to race over here. Sorry!
The island proved an ideal haven for the mutineers. Uninhabited, virtually inaccessible, and with plenty of food, water and fertile land. For a short time, everyone existed peaceably. Then it all went wrong, and fast. Do the math. 9 Mutineers, 6 Tahitian Men, and 12 Tahitian Women. Hmm. Christian should have planned the kidnapping more precisely to make sure the sexes were balanced. After each mutineer took a wife, there were only 3 women left for the remaining 6 Tahitian men. Then, two women died the first year, and the mutineers snatched two more women. Leaving only one woman for the 6 Tahitian men. She may have liked a lot of attention, but that much? Doubtful.
Gradually, tensions and rivalries arose. By 1800, just 10 years after arriving on Pitcairn, all the men were dead, except John Adams, a mutineer. 13 were brutally murdered by each other. There was one suicide, and one died of asthma. Surprisingly, Adams became a capable leader of the remaining 9 women and 19 children. He taught literacy and Christianity, and kept peace on the island. By the time a British ship landed in 1810, they decided not to arrest Adams, understanding that the community was wholly dependent on him. Upon his death in 1829, he was honored as the founder and father of a community that became celebrated over the next century as an exemplar of Victorian morality.
The population over the past 200 years has ranged from 20-200 people. Right now, there are only 46 islanders living on Pitcairn; most are descendants of the mutineers. The rest? Running from the law, perhaps? 4 teenagers are currently going to high school in New Zealand. Most kids do not come back to the island after getting a taste of civilization, and the population keeps getting older. The British government supports the community (due to historical ties with the Bounty), but it is becoming very difficult to justify the huge expense for so few inhabitants.
There is a small supply ship (The Claymore) that arrives every 3 weeks from New Zealand with goods and up to 12 tourists. The round trip journey is 6 days.
There is not enough level ground for an airport or space for a dock in the small bay, so tourism is almost nonexistent. They get two TV channels. “Hope” a religious channel, and ABC from Australia. They have satellite internet which is extremely expensive. There is one doctor that signs up for a one year contract. If emergency care is needed, the helicopter ride to Tahiti is $60,000. There is no dentist.
They grow some vegetables, bananas, pineapple, papaya, taro (for flour), sugar cane, and breadfruit in the rich volcanic soil. They have a handful of farm animals.
There are 9 cruise ships scheduled to pass by this year, and most will invite the islanders onboard to sell their handicrafts like we did. They do not have many ways to make an income, and our passengers were happy to help out, in a rather psychotic, manic way. Here is a photo of the motley crew heading towards Queen Victoria. The guy in the front with the nipple rings (ouch), tattoos, and and iPad is the “immigration officer”.
The feeding frenzy of shoppers on board was a fascinating anthropological phenomenon to watch. Men and women alike. The Pitcairn tee shirt brandishing a Burning Bounty could have been the holy grail. 4 people deep at the stalls, blindly clutching at everything, from the tackiest necklace to the most overpriced wooden turtle. And, if the piece was signed with a last name of “Christian” or “Adams”, it demanded premium pricing. The islanders left with their pockets bulging. There will be celebrations on Pitcairn tonight.
There are no taxes collected on Pitcairn. Nice. Are you ready to move?
Next stop. Tahiti. Stay tuned.